As a freelance copywriter, I didn't always spend years hacking away at my computer and writing content for clients. In my "past life," I was a fundraiser and worked for national non-profits planning fundraising events and raising thousands of dollars for public health charities.
I'm the first to admit that I never liked sales and never wanted to pursue any type of sales job. I am not a fan of number crunching or peddling products to people--or that was my limited perception of sales. However, as a fundraiser I quickly learned I was a salesperson and I was actually good at raising money, despite not wanting to pursue a sales-focused career.
As a fundraiser, I learned a lot about sales, especially how to effectively network, how to research and target corporations for sponsor donations, and learned that rejection comes with the territory. While it's been years since I pitched a sponsorship donor package to a large corporation I learned invaluable lessons as a fundraiser.
These top 3 lessons that have stuck with me over the years:
#1 Set realistic and obtainable goals for your team
My biggest challenge as a fundraiser was communicating with my directors that some of their fundraising goals and expectations were unrealistic. Fundraising is a tough and stressful gig and the financial bottom-line is crucial for not-for-profit organizations. When setting campaign goals, create small achievable goals (i.e. monthly, quarterly etc.) so you and team members don't feel overwhelmed. Yes, you want to push team members in a positive direction to achieve their goals. However, you also don't want to make them feel they have failed even before they begin.
#2 Develop a targeted list of prospects and do your research first
As a fundraiser, I spent countless hours researching Book of Lists and searching online for targeted companies that I thought would be a great sponsorship fit. Use both personal and professional connections and network, network, and network. It really is about WHO you know. Attend community meetings and networking events but make sure these events are a good return on your investment. Don't waste time networking with groups of people that are not interested in your services, products, etc. Use and invest your time wisely when networking.
#3 Keep it real and authentic when approaching people
I don't like people telling me what they think I want to hear. As a fundraiser, I prided myself on my real and honest approach with people, especially when I walked into corporate offices and pitched my sponsor packages. I was very respectful of their time (which was usually limited as they were incredibly busy people) and made sure my fundraising pitch was tight and cohesive before I walked into the meeting.
I learned that the best way to approach people, especially when asking for donations, is to keep it real and to always be honest and transparent with people. You want them to be truly invested in your cause, product, service, etc. You will know right away if a person is truly interested or is dozing off and is turned off by your sales pitch.
As a fundraiser, if a person was not invested in my cause and organization, I thanked them and walked away and moved onto the next company or conducted more research to find more viable prospects. I didn't hound companies for money and I always gave them different options. I never turned down ANY donation--no matter the dollar amount. It's crucial to keep the lines of communication wide open. A "no" right now might be a "yes" in a few months down the road or even the following year. Some of my best and loyal company sponsors were based on solid relationships I built over the years and not all of them said "yes" the first time I approached them.
These invaluable lessons I learned as a fundraiser helped me immensely in my writing and marketing career. I highly recommend picking a salesperson's brain. Find out what makes them successful and learn from their success stories. I promise you that sales and marketing folks have a LOT of real-world experience and wisdom to share and it only makes you a stronger writer and marketer.